The mediation space, which is where a conflict is dealt with, should be the first thing the mediator needs to attend to. He has to consider three aspects, the three C: The first C, as in Comfort, is analyzed according to 4 different moments that go from the initial framework –through the «returning moment» based on the delegation of power, discourse and prominence– to exploratory and generative conversations, before reaching the settlement phase. Also, he has to prepare an adequate psychological space; this requires a positive personal connection to the parties and between them. These three aspects will be shown through international mediation cases in which the author participated.
Keywords: Mediation space, framework, comfort, communication, connection, international mediation
The space where we are going to work out a conflict situation is the first thing a mediator needs to attend to. The most obvious and basic thing concerning the space is that it invites us to set boundaries, and by doing this, we create differences about the space where conflicts will be dealt with in the following order: first, identifying the influence on the mediator him/herself; and second, envisaging the influence it might have on the others.
Establishing the places occupied by the persons in a space usually defines their roles. In the event of having a head or a central place, this location calls attention and defines this role and the other roles related to it. If the space is circular, all positions are equaled even if the energy should start to flow from one specific point. Distributing seats «on sides» places participants face to face, or one next to the other. Thus, physical location will have an impact on the positioning participants will adopt during the interaction, as it is the case of all the spaces in day to day conversations. When we facilitate dialogue or when we conduct a mediation process, space should facilitate for us what we attempt to achieve. And we need to prepare the space, or modify it along the procedure, as a specific type of intervention.
In the event of a big group and if a dialogue must occur, or if there is a mediation room with only two people, the first movement of a mediator should be to arrange the space because the layout of the space to be used entails always a meaning.
What are the most useful elements to take into account about space when working on a conflict? At least three aspects should be considered (the three «C»): Comfort, Communication and Connection.
People cannot work well if they don’t feel comfortable where they are. If the parties are sitting at a table, chairs should not only be comfortable but also equal if possible or be equally distributed. Light is vital to feel comfortable, very dark closed places do not predispose you to openness and exploration. Smells and textures impact our sensations. And more comfortable we feel, easier the interaction will be for us. It is appropriate for mediators to arrange the space in the first place. The mediator should feel comfortable, giving him/herself the necessary space and giving the participants in the process the space he/she considers to be more helpful for them. This conscious attention to space by mediators will also facilitate a conscious attention given to the needs of the people they are working with.
«Comfort» in this regard is not understood as a standardized one but as a conscious occupation and adaptation of the space in order to reach the goal the mediator is seeking, to make it as facilitator as possible.
Communication should be as easy and generative as possible; a kind of communication proper to the mediation space that transforms along the process from a competitive one to a collaborative one. I usually give the example of this kind of communication using the lines that link those who communicate because this allows us to «see» the nature of communication exchanges.
In a negotiation, communication flows between A and B, and when the flow is cut off negotiation is interrupted. Precisely when there is no communication flow between the parties, the alternative space for a trial emerges.
In the trial space, parties A and B stop negotiation communication and they address the judge (Time 1). Now, as both parties know that the judge is going to make a decision that is abiding for both parties (Time 2), the «nature» of this communication system means a competitive positioning that is necessary to the other party. Basically, in a trial communicational system competition is important to see who is efficient in «convincing» the judge that he is correct and has the right, and that it is the other party who is breaking the law and must be compelled to correct his behavior and/or compensate for his error. It is called adversarial system because the parties cannot be but adversaries in a competition to convince a third one, who is the judge.
When the parties get to the mediation space it is because they have not usually managed to negotiate a way out of the conflict in a more direct way, and communication does not flow between them.
Time 1: Like in a trial, each party normally addresses the mediator trying to show that they are right in their stances and that the other party is wrong. Each one will naturally attempt to accuse the other party and discredit it, as a way of justifying him/herself and preserving his/her rights and interests.
Time 2: For this reason the first thing a mediator should do is a «returning movement» that is extended and emphasized as much as necessary until the consensual noncompetitive «nature» of the space we are communicating in is strongly established. This is the basic function of what our practice calls «framework». It is nothing less than defining the mediation space, establishing its nature and setting interaction and communication patterns that are called to be respected in this space. All this is done by reaching consensus and not giving instructions.
What does this «returning movement» consists of? What is returned to the parties? Three basic things: Power, Discourse and Prominence (PDP)
- The power to decide. We explicitly «get rid of it» because it is what takes away the raison d’être of the natural competition between the parties to convince the third one. Obviously this will not occur automatically only because we might say with a clear voice and in a convincing tone that as mediators we do not make decisions about the content of a dispute; because truth is the parties come to a mediator seeking an ally for him to oblige the other one to do what they need, and not a powerless third one. One of the main challenges we have in this process of creating a mediation space is to be consistently coherent with the returning movement of the decision power.
- Their own discourse. For this reason it is also vital to use the paraphrasing technique for the introduction of each party. It is appropriate to return the first recount of each party immediately after having listened to it, leaving time–including the return of the mediator–between the version of the first person to talk and the version of the second one. This is a way to give the returning movement more relevance.
- Prominence. Returning power and the discourse to the parties, as well as using listening and questions as preferred communication techniques are movements that are consistent with the idea that in this space the parties have prominence. The reason why the parties must take on a leading role in mediation is because only they can design the way ahead of them in order to transform the conflict.
It is necessary to well consolidate this «returning» moment before thinking in any other kind of intervention, not only because this is what differentiates mediation from a trial, but also because the systemic purpose is to manage to start drawing a soft dotted communication line between the parties.
Time 3: The «returning movement» causes this space to work with a new interaction system, marked by a set of exploratory conversations, in which a channel begins to naturally unfold between the parties, soft at the beginning and that the mediator will try to reinforce and make more solid thanks to his/her intervention along the process; new meanings and new ways of understanding the possible evolution of the conflict towards a settlement start to emerge.
Time 4: Only when communication between all solidly flows can we start the generative conversations phase. When the parties agree to build up an agreement, their communication will be solid enough for the mediator to intervene in a softer and more specific way.
The four step structured process allows to move from a situation where there is no communication between the parties to a situation in which they can negotiate a settlement.
How to generate personal connection? The first thing to do is to take off your shoes; i.e. becoming aware of the assumptions you are operating with and clean yourself from prejudices about the other. There are three guiding words that might help to be in the necessary inner position to establish a true connection:
- Respect. It is to look and look the other one again, in order to see him/her as someone different from you, someone with his/her own original and unique being.
- Compassion. It is not feeling pity but sharing with the other one what he/she feels or experiences.
Nothing has more potential for change in human relations than a true personal connection. When people share this kind of connection, exploratory and generative conversations are possible as they give more spaces for this possibility, and allow solution options to emerge and generate a different future.
In conclusion, no matter what context mediators have to work in, the first thing is to pay attention to the space and use it as a tool that leverages the three «C» of a mediator’s job: Comfort, Communication and Connection. The important thing is to take into account that we all move in the space thinking, feeling, talking and acting in consistency with the space we are in. Within its boundaries and according to the possibilities it opens up to us. The advantage of being aware of it as mediators is that we can choose, design and modify the space we will be working in so that these four basic activities of the parties, thinking, feeling, saying and doing, are influenced by the spirit and the purpose of mediation: generating constructive changes.